Hogy kerültem Szekszárdról Kínába?

How did I get to Shanghai from the Hungarian countryside?

If someone had asked me when I was a teenager where I envisioned my future, I am 100% sure that I would not have said China.

I am originally from Szekszárd, a small town in the Southern part of Hungary. As a kid, I wasn't really attracted to the Far-East, or even to living abroad in general. I grew up on the countryside, and we spent most of our time with the extended family at my grandparents', or in the nearby areas of my hometown. We have been abroad several times, but exotic places were not really among our destinations.

When I went to university in Budapest in 2011, I thought it was important to expand on my language skills. This was mainly driven by opportunistic thoughts: if I learn another language in addition to my already-existing, moderately strong English language skills, it will surely be easier for me to find a good job later, I thought. This is where Eastern culture came into my life for the first time.


The first steps towards learning Chinese

At Corvinus University of Budapest at that time, students could learn a foreign language for free for two semesters, and the selection was very wide. In addition to the common European languages, Arabic, Russian, Japanese and Chinese were also available. I was sure of one thing: I wanted to learn an exotic language, because I felt that this would give me an advantage in the labor market later on.

Although I was more interested in Russian at first, my father nudged me in the direction of the Chinese language. Since he had already visited China several times on business, he saw how fast the country was developing and saw it as a great opportunity if someone could master this difficult language. After some thought, I gave in and decided to try myself at learning Mandarin Chinese.

Our classes were mostly taught by a young and energetic Chinese lady, Liu "laoshi" (老师, teacher), who was a very good educator and easily found common ground with our group of students. Learning Chinese turned out to be a particularly good time for me. I'm visually oriented, so I picked up writing Chinese characters relatively easily, and I really liked that along with learning a language, you're also learning about an interesting, far-away culture. In addition, it was refreshing to deal with such an interesting field on a daily basis, in addition to my more-boring economics studies.



The months at university passed, more and more people from our Chinese group gave up on language studies, which resulted in a strong, cohesive "hardcore" group among those who remained. For the third semester, there were maybe ten of us who still went to class regularly - and how grateful I am that we did, because that's when the really big breakthrough came, which was worth waiting for!

From the very beginning, we knew that learning Chinese had the possibility for us to one day travel to China with a scholarship and live there for a year or two. This was confirmed by our teachers in an info session: they told us that we can apply for several scholarship programs, and if our application materials are in order and we perform well in a language entrance exam, there is a good chance that we can go to China for a year to study at a university, with minimal personal expenses out of our own pockets.

I prepared a lot for the mentioned language test, and I made sure that all my materials were right during the application. I got very hyped about to China, and with two of my study mates -- with whom we have been very good friends ever since -- we aimed for the city of Shanghai and its surroundings.

Following the language test, after a few months of nail-biting, I received one of the best news of my life up to that point, in early 2013: East China Normal University in Shanghai accepted my application, and they were awaiting me for a two-semester Chinese language program! I was extremely happy about the opportunity, I was very excited, and it filled me with a lot of happiness that one of my classmates would also go to study at the same school; we booked our plane tickets together, we moved into our dorm rooms together, and since our time in China we have been close friends to this day.


Éjszaka Shanghaiban
Night view of Shanghai downtown -- my own photo


Shanghai – the Paris of the East

There is a saying about the city of Shanghai that I really liked during my year abroad, and since then I think it best describes this exciting place:

"New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Shanghai doesn't even sit down - and not just because there's no room." /Patricia Marx/

Shanghai is an amazing city. The metropolis of 25 million people was at first incomprehensible to the eyes of a young man from the Eastern-European countryside, for whom Budapest also seemed enormous when he moved there. This was only compounded when I heard from the locals that the population of Shanghai can be up to 40 million people if we include the agglomeration, commuters and everyone who is not registered as a local resident.


Shanghai óváros 2014
Shanghai old town, with skyscrapers  of the financial district in the background -- January 2014, my own photo


Since moving to Shanghai in the fall of 2013 was my first encounter with Chinese culture, I am very glad that I chose this city. Shanghai is a wonderful melting pot between Eastern and Western cultures, not by chance: from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, the city was largely divided into foreign "concessions", districts. The French, British, American, Japanese and Russian influences have been felt since then in the diverse architecture, as well as in the visible foreign presence.

I have too many nice memories to be able to collect them in this one blog post - I will rather dedicate separate chapters to those. However, one thing is certain: during my two semesters in Shanghai, I had such a good time and was so intrigued by Chinese culture that I decided to return to China as soon as possible.

 Éjszaka Shanghai-ban

Night in Shanghai -- my own photo

Hangzhou – a cradle of Chinese culture

Returning to Hungary after the 2013/14 academic year spent in Shanghai, one thing flashed before my eyes: to go to China again as soon as possible. In the late fall of 2014, this was given to me with a short Guangzhou-Shanghai business trip, but I definitely wanted more. I once again applied for several Chinese scholarship opportunities, of which I was very lucky to be awarded one again: this time I received a letter saying that I could study in the city of Hangzhou, on the campus of the famous Zhejiang University in China, for a year!

If Shanghai got a saying that describes it well, then we can't leave Hangzhou without one either:

上有天堂,下有苏杭 - or: "As heaven is in the sky, so is Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth." This often used Chinese saying describes Hangzhou's beauty and cultural significance very well.


Hangzhou látkép

On the bank of the West Lake in Hanzhou -- my own photo


Hangzhou is in Eastern China, about 300 kilometers from Shanghai, and in many ways it is truly a paradise on earth.

The city is located in a lush forest, the center of which is built around a large lake, Xihu (西湖, West Lake). The air is humid, and the dense green vegetation in the lakeside area is fragrant and beautiful. Although the rapid development and transformation characteristics of China are also visible here - even more so, as the city is home to Alibaba Group, one of China's largest mega-corporations - but the old, traditional Chinese culture also fits in nicely. In the parks, people have tea, do tai chi, and chat around. The foreign presence is much less than in Shanghai: you rarely stumble upon trendy burger bars, Italian or other foreign restaurants; their place is mostly occupied by local restaurants and teahouses.


In Hangzhou, near a local tea house


Hangzhou is also well-deservedly famous for its tea culture: one of the most popular Chinese green teas, Xihu Longjing (西湖龙井, West Lake Dragon Well), also comes from here, which practically everyone in China knows. The city is surrounded by hills and tea plantations, which were a great experience to drive around on weekends from the university campus.

If I hadn't made it to Hangzhou, I almost certainly wouldn't have developed a strong interest for tea. Great memories are the evening tea parties with local friends, the tea ceremonies spent in the Buddhist gardens, and in general the slow, very local experience related to this interesting area.


Since then

After moving home from Hangzhou in 2016, my "business direction" in the world of tea started. Since then, I have visited China several times, and from the second half of 2018 to the end of 2019, I spent another six months in various parts of the country, traveling large cities as well as tea-producing areas.

Although the COVID epidemic has made it difficult to visit China, I hope to return to this multi-faceted, diverse country as soon as possible, which I consider my second home. I'm really looking forward to the day when I can meet friends and business partners there again, and talk about the experiences of the past years over a good cup of tea.


Hangzhou, on the bank of the West Lake

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